Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Sports

Fernandez molds USF into tourney team

Jose Fernandez has USF back in the NCAA Tournament. And as the Bulls prepare to face Texas Tech tonight in Lubbock, he can appreciate the opportunity his team has to take its program to another level.

"We've been on the wrong side of the bubble two, three other times," said Fernandez, who took USF to the NCAAs in 2006 but also has seven NIT berths over the past 10 years. "I'm happy for (the players) because this is something they're going to remember for a lifetime. It was great to see the emotions on their faces (at the announcement) and the excitement. It's going to be a springboard. Having young kids go to the NCAA Tournament, now they know what it's going to take to get there."

The 10th-seeded Bulls (21-10) are in the same position as USF's men's team a year ago, hoping for their first-ever tournament win. Getting it can alter perceptions

"Once you do have success in the NCAA Tournament, then kids you're recruiting view you as an NCAA Tournament team that not only has a chance to win your league, but to go far in the NCAAs," Connecticut coach and seven-time national champion Geno Auriemma said Thursday. "I think that's the time line Jose and his staff are on right now."

Every time the Bulls break a huddle, they've yelled "March," not only for the goal on their calendar, but the relentless, methodical path they would take to get there. At 210-194 over 13 seasons, Fernandez is USF's winningest basketball coach — men's or women's. His Bulls won the 2009 WNIT, but a win tonight would be a landmark step forward.

"He loves kids that work hard and respect him," guard Andrea Smith said. "He stays on you and is persistent about the things he wants for this program and this team. He pushes me to be the best player I can be, and I love that from him."

Fernandez, 41, made this run with a contract that expires after the season (paying him $225,000 for 2012-13). It wasn't until the NCAA bid was announced Monday that athletic director Doug Woolard committed to giving Fernandez an extension.

"I was shocked to hear he didn't have his contract renewed yet," Auriemma said. "Everybody thinks it's easy to do; that the next person is going to be way better than the one you have. That's not always the case. I'm happy for him. He's done an amazing job."

ESPN analyst Beth Mowins, who called the Big East tournament, said Fernandez has been "terrific" in guiding USF to the top half of a difficult conference.

"I think he has everything in place that they need to be even more successful," she said. "The expectations before he got there were much lower. Now people do grumble when there's no trip to the NCAA Tournament. A year like this, when the Big East was awfully strong at the top with two No. 1 seeds in UConn and Notre Dame, speaks to the level of competition he's had to face every week."

His challenge will change with conference realignment. UConn remains. But Notre Dame leaves after this season, Louisville and Rutgers after next. So USF is in position to be the top challenger to UConn.

Fernandez has a strong recruiting class coming, and with the stability of a new contract, the Bulls should enter their new league with confidence and momentum — even more so if they can pull off a win or two this weekend.

"You're talking about a team that could be perennially first or second in the league and competing for an NCAA bid every year," Auriemma said. "This is a really good turn of events for South Florida basketball."

Comments
Is Alex Colome telling us something about Rays’ plans with his Instagram account?

Is Alex Colome telling us something about Rays’ plans with his Instagram account?

Closer Alex Colome was not traded by the Rays to the Cardinals on Tuesday night.But he appeared to be either prepping for or having some fun with the possibility.On his alexcolome37 verified Instagram account, Colome started following the Cardinals o...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Boys basketball: St. Petersburg 62, Countryside 61

CLEARWATER – St. Petersburg already had Serrel Smith, an Ole Miss signee who is the reigning Pinellas County player of the year.The lineup became even better in the summer with the addition of Tampa Catholic transfers Tai and Terrell Strickland...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 2 – with some news

Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 2 – with some news

UPDATE, 8:45: Tommy Hunter parlayed his solid 2017 season with the Rays into a two-year deal with the Phillies.UPDATE, 7:13: Unexpected sighting in the meetings lobby: Luke Scott, who looked in great shape at 39 and is at least talking about playing ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
The Bucs’ problem isn’t how they finish; it’s how they start

The Bucs’ problem isn’t how they finish; it’s how they start

For the second straight week, the Buccaneers had the ball in the final minutes of a tie game.For the second straight week, they could not finish.As disappointing as that might be, they have a larger problem, and one that has existed all season: The B...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Despite injury, Gerald McCoy wants to play this season

Despite injury, Gerald McCoy wants to play this season

Even dealing with a biceps injury and his Bucs at 4-9, Gerald McCoy isn't giving up on playing this season."I'm a fighter," McCoy said Tuesday night. "Y'all know me. I don't quit. I give it everything I have. Even the slightest possibility of being a...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Lightning opens road trip with shutout of Blues

Lightning opens road trip with shutout of Blues

ST. LOUIS — This showdown was supposed to be about the best team in the East versus the best in the West. In reality, the Lightning’s 3-0 win over the Blues on Tuesday night pretty much came down to this:Andrei Vasilevskiy is one of the best goalies ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Bucs’ defensive line surprises families with Christmas spree

Bucs’ defensive line surprises families with Christmas spree

The West Club at Raymond James Stadium was packed on Tuesday night with 75 needy local families who thought they were getting a holiday dinner and stadium tour with Bucs players.The defensive line stepped up to give the families a much bigger surpris...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Joe Smith’s takeaways from Lightning-Blues

Andrei Vasilevskiy might have made the save of the year. With the Lightning leading by one midway through the second, an Alex Steen dump-in took a wild carom off the boards. Vasilevskiiy somehow sprawled out for a right-toe save. Then, on his back, V...
Updated: 6 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Dec. 12

Tuesday’s scoreboardGirls soccerCountryside 5, Tarpon Springs 0Palm Harbor U. 8, Alonso 0Boys soccerShorecrest 2, Indian Rocks Chr. 0Palm Harbor U. 3, Alonso 0Girls basketballNortheast 65, Dixie Hollins 25...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Leonard makes season debut in Spurs defeat

Leonard makes season debut in Spurs defeat

DALLAS — Spurs star Kawhi Leonard made his season debut Tuesday night, getting the start in a 95-89 loss at Dallas after missing 27 games with a quadriceps injury. Leonard has been recovering from right quadriceps tendinopathy, a condition that cause...
Updated: 6 hours ago